HC Deb 15 July 1822 vol 7 cc1653-8

On the order of the day, for the third reading of this bill,

Mr. Hutchinson

said, he understood ministers to declare, that they could do nothing for Ireland, but the passing of the Constables bill, the Tithe-leasing hill, and the measure now under consideration. If so, he had no hesitation in saying, that they had not done enough. The object of ministers ought to be, to make the people of Ireland wealthy and contented, and such was the purpose of Mr. Pitt at the time of the Union. What had been the fact? Martial law had since been declared, the Habeas Corpus act had been suspended, and the Insurrection act revived. In short, not one of the many promises made at the Union had been fulfilled. The country was now as dissatisfied as ever. Ministers had instituted no inquiry into the state of Ireland since the Union. Where was the equality of law that was spoken of? In what part of Great Britain would ministers have dared to propose a law like the Insurrection act? He had, the greatest confidence in the marquis Wellesley; who, if he were not thwarted, would devise measures to strengthen and pacify. He (Mr. H.) was glad to find, that this law would be put into the hands of an enlightened magistracy; but there was nevertheless not enough in the late measures, to show that a radical change would be adopted in the system of Ireland. Things could not continue as they were. All that the opponents of this bill required was investigation. The hon. gentleman censured the nightly visitations authorized by the bill, and dwelt upon the scenes of distressing decency to which it gave rise. The system in Ireland had been so bad, that the inhabitants had been compelled to be disloyal; and nothing but a full and fair investigation of abuses could lead to their remedy.

Mr. Monck

objected to the bill, because he saw nothing in it of a remedial nature. In his opinion redundant population in Ireland was the great source of the existing evils, while the state of society was half civilized, half savage. The, Irish gentlemen ought to do their utmost to introduce among the peasantry, a different mode of living, and to abandon the consumption of potatoes for grain. Ireland was competent to her own maintenance, and ought not to call upon England for any assistance.

Colonel Trench

agreed, that the gentry ought to exert themselves to raise the peasantry of Ireland from their degraded condition. If a measure like the present was not resorted to, the troops would be frequently called out, and much bloodshed would be the inevitable consequence. The absentee system he looked upon as a very great evil. The people were, in fact, deserted by those who ought to be their protectors. He denied that the gentlemen were unfit to hold the situation of magistrates. If improper persons got into the commission of the peace, they ought to be dismissed; but the conduct of such persons ought not to be attributed to the gentry at large. The Irish people, if judicious means were taken, were not incapable of civilization and improvement. A debt of gratitude was due to this country for the munificent subscriptions which had been entered into for the relief of Ireland, and he felt truly grateful to the Hibernian society, by whose efforts schools had been introduced in the west of Ireland. Much, however, remained to be done. There was one crying evil, to which the chancellor of the exchequer might apply a remedy; The evil was, the oppressive nature of the Excise laws; and the remedy, the toleration of small stills. If small stills were allowed, the revenue would not suffer, for those who were licensed to work such stills would take care that others should not destroy their trade by employing unlicensed stills of the same kind. He should support the present measure, because he believed it would be well administered.

Mr. Wilberforce

gave his support to the bill, because he thought the situation of Ireland demanded it. The want of social order which prevailed in that country was truly lamentable, and he should be most happy if some comprehensive measure could be introduced to remove the evil.

Mr. R. Martin

said, that the bill would not inflict tiny injury on the people of Ireland. It has asserted that by its operation trial by jury would be abrogated; but, in his opinion, that would be for the benefit of the accused. It an individual charged with the offences cognizable under this act were to be tried in a disturbed county, it must be either by a jury of those who had suffered from violence, or of men who were the prisoners' partisans. In either case, there would not be a fair trial. In the first instance, the prisoner was not likely to receive justice at the hands of an irritated jury; and in the second, the Crown, stood no chance of a verdict. Under these circumstances, a man would rather be tried by a learned serjeant, than by a jury of the vicinage in which the offence had been committed.

Mr. W. Smith

supported the measure, because it struck him, as being, in a great degree, a measure of mercy. He would always be ready to grant great powers to the Irish government, if he did not recollect, with feelings of sorrow and indignation, the abominable manner in which the extraordinary powers formerly granted to that government had been abused. He never could forget the dreadful practices for which the Indemnity bill was passed after the commotions of 1798. It was an indelible disgrace for the government to ask for such a measure, and for the parliament to grant it. He believed that the noble marquis at the head of that government was opposed to every thing that had the slightest tendency to an abuse of power. But the Indemnity bill had made such an impression on his mind, that he never could grant those extensive powers as a matter of course. The misgovernment on the one hand, and the misconduct growing out of that misgovernment on the other, by which Ireland was reduced to such misery, could not be hastily removed. Half a century would be far too short a period for the removal of that series of misgovernment which had continued for four or five centuries, and to do away the evils which it had created and inflicted. The best cure for those evils was a general system of instruction. The burthen of relieving the poor had been taken off the shoulders of the church; but no rates were imposed as in this country for their support. The whole system was calculated to brutalize the people of Ire. land. While they had no clothing but rags, and no food but potatoes, they never would be contented or tractable in Ireland. Until he saw corn used, not as food for the still, but as food for man, his hopes for the tranquillity of that country, would remain very low.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, that the present bill was one of those measures that were calculated to keep the extraordinary powers of government within some degree of rule and regulation. Why, then, on the discussion of such a measure, did the hon. member refer to a time when no such bill as the present was in existence? It was not liberal or fair to make such observations. In the absence of strong and efficient measures, the loyalists of Ireland, at the time of the rebellion, had no other way of defending themselves, but by taking the law into their own hands. At that melancholy period, many individuals thought they were doing good when they outstripped the bounds of law. He looked with pain and horror at some of their acts, but he denied that they arose from the abuse of any extraordinary powers which had been granted to the government. At a subsequent period, assisted by the attorney-general, he had brought in the Indemnity bill. And, when he brought down a pardon from the Crown for all those who had committed violence and spoliation on the persons and property of his majesty's loyal subjects, it would have been monstrous injustice if he had not also brought down a bill be protect the men who had adhered to the government of the country. Let not the hon. gentleman think that the bill was framed to meet any particular case. No: it was intended to indemnify magistrates and others, who had exerted themselves to put down the rebellion. It did not prevent any man, who thought himself aggrieved by a magistrate, from bringing his case before a jury. What would the hon. gentleman have said, if, having pardoned all the rebels, the Crown had left the loyal subjects of Ireland without any protection?

Mr. S. Rice

said, it was desirable that the unfortunate circumstances attending the former rebellion in Ireland should be kept out of the consideration of the House; as the introduction of them could have no effect but to produce angry charges, and as angry recriminations. A rebellion in any country must necessarily lead to acts which were not justifiable; but when that rebellion was over, it appeared to him to be advisable to close the book.

General Hart

contended that the distillery laws formed the greatest evil which Ireland endured.

Mr. Bennet

said, that to shut the eyes to the past was not the best way to insure a wise legislation for the future. In his opinion, it was, above all things, desirable that parliament should keep steadily in mind the operation of laws of equal severity to the present in former times. Those laws ought to be contemplated, not as examples to be imitated, but as beacons to be avoided. The conduct which that House had pursued with respect to Ireland, during the present session, was, in his opinion, highly reprehensible. With the exception of a grant of money, not a single grievance had been redressed. He urged the hon. general to bring the subject of the Distillery laws under the consideration of the House next session.


said, that this measure had been called a severe one, and so it undoubtedly was; but still it was mild in comparison with those which, case of actual rebellion, must necessarily be resorted to. He would ask any hon. member whether, if, at the commencement of the session, the Insurrection act had not passed, it could for a moment be doubted, that open insurrection and rebellion would have broken out? At that time, the parties against whom this act was directed, had actually encountered the king's troops; and it required no spirit of prophecy to foresee, that, if this strong preventive measure had tot been adopted, all the horrors of civil war must speedily have ensued. The Irish government did not ask for the enactment of this law from any desire unnecessarily to increase their power. It was asked for, because the state of the country required it, and because it was a measure of prevention and therefore of mercy. The Irish government solicited the re-enactment of this law with real reluctance; and he hoped that their efforts to tranquillize the country would be so successful, as to save him from the painful duty of again proposing its continuance.

Lord A. Hamilton

said, that when he saw that not a tithe of the members of the House were present, and certainly not a tithe of the members for Ireland; he could hardly believe believe that the proposed measure was so indispensable as it was asserted to be. The chief secretary had referred the House to experience. Experirence! of what? The only experience on the subject which he (lord A. H.) recollected, was the experience of one measure of violence succeeded by another of violence succeeded by another of still greater violence. The turbulence of Ireland had been often and often ascribed to the misgovernment of that country. Nay, a right hon. gentleman (Mr. C. Grant), in a speech which would not easily be forgotten, had detailed disturbance after disturbance, and insurrection after insurrection growing out of that misgovernment. Now, he would ask, whether that ought not to be a subject of serious consideration, before they proceeded to the enactment of a measure so severe as that at present proposed?

Mr. Butterworth

thought the act, however severe, was a measure of mercy towards the peasantry of Ireland.

The bill was read a third time, and passed.